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Saturday, January 15, 2005

A chap from the WGC's magazine Canadian Screenwriter wants to interview me next week about Canadian SF -- is it different? -- and how you write SF when technology is so advanced these days.

I wrote him a few ideas in advance:

I'm against the notion that Canadians need to think about doing things differently than Americans. New Yorkers don't worry about whether they're doing distinctly New York tv shows or distinctly New York movies. They just do them, and the shows have a distinct voice because New York is not like other places. Montreal is not like other places, either. So when I work on a show, whether SF or not, I don't worry about whether I'm being Canadian enough. (Though worrying itself is a traditional Canadian behavior.) I just go for it. When I co-created Naked Josh for Cirrus, we didn't worry about whether our show was "Canadian." We just wrote about the Montreal we know and love.

It's harder to shoot Montreal for Montreal when you're doing sf, but I think the important thing is to trust your own distinctness. I'm currently working on a feature about creatures from world folklore living in a parallel Montreal, called Unseen, with help from the Telefilm Scriptwriting Assistance fund. That should be fun.

Charlie Jade, the sf show we just did in Cape Town, is the very distinct vision of Bob Wertheimer, with the strong support of Diane Boehme at CHUM. But is it particularly Canadian? I just think it's particularly Bob and Diane.

On the other hand the show will look like nothing else on television. I do think that since Canadian shows have smaller budgets than American ones, we have to do shows that look like nothing else. If we do a cut rate Star Trek ripoff, it'll get clobbered by the real thing. (Well, it would if ST: Enterprise were any good.) If we do a show like Charlie Jade, which is in some ways Blade Runner meets Six Feet Under, then we may not get the widest audience possible -- but the audience we do get will stick with us.

Ironically, the most Canadian SF show I can think of is the original Star Trek. It may have only starred a Canadian, but its values are Canadian. The Federation tries not to interfere in other people's cultures; it promotes consensus; it only fights when attacked. The Federation of Planets is probably a pretty good example of the kind of world government Canadians would feel comfortable with -- and which Americans might feel was too wimpy.

How do you write SF when tech is getting so advanced? First of all, I think you should make sure your advanced civilizations have technology at least as good as ours! I'm sick of seeing shows like Starship Troopers, where Marines take on giant bugs with rifles. What happened to the artillery? If you pitted the US Marines against Starship Trooper's Marines, the guys in green would take the science fiction guys apart.

And how come the Enterprise isn't equipped with seatbelts?

(NB: Heinlein's Starship Troopers, if I remember correctly, were kickass. It's just the movie guys that suck. Or am I thinking of Joe Haldeman's Marines from The Forever War.)

Second, read science fiction. Read Snow Crash. Read The Diamond Age. Read Cryptonomicon. SF novels tend to stay 20 to 30 years ahead of technology. In 1975, John Brunner pretty much described the Internet in The Shockwave Rider. He also invented the concept of the computer worm (a virus that doesn't need user action to spread), and the Delphi Pool (surveying a large number of ill informed people turns out to give answers as good as surveying a small number of experts, and often better answers). The first major application of the Delphi Pool, the Policy Analysis Market, only went online last year. Arthur C. Clarke invented the geosynchronous satellite in 1945. I'm still waiting for the Skyhook. Neal Stephenson has a pretty good idea of some of the directions nanotech and infotech may take us. He's also writing about encryption and privacy issues, which will become more important in the next ten years.

(See for more sf inventions.)

Third, read the newspaper. After all, people watch SF because it's a metaphor for real life. Not only couldn't Mary Shelly or HG Wells imagine what the future would really hold -- their audiences wouldn't have appreciated it if they did! We don't want to read about what the future is really going to be like, even assuming anyone knows. And anyone who thinks they know what the world's going to be like more than 20 years in the future is mad. Who predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union? Microsoft? The Internet? Cell phones with cameras? Blogs? They promised us jet packs and Mars colonies and a permanent food crisis. What the audience wants is something that responds to their anxieties about this world. Mary Shelley wrote about man violating the laws of God because she was writing in the early 1800s when factories were starting to destroy rural England. Some issues we're dealing with these days are terrorism, plague, the disappearance of privacy, identity theft... if you extrapolate those problems far enough, you've got SF that makes sense to people now.


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